John Brey has always loved nodders. They make him smile.
Yet, Brey doesn’t have a collection that numbers in the thousands or even hundreds. There are no cabinets lining his basement or office, filled to the point of busting with nodders and he’s not camping out on line at a ballpark waiting for the latest SGA.
No, Brey’s love of bobble heads, and nodders, is just that – a love of the nodder simply because it is a nodder. It’s a passion that doesn’t require a monstrous collection to be validated.
“I used to collect baseball cards,” Brey, 63, said. “But with baseball cards, you get them, you put them in an album or a box and every few months you pull them out and look at them. These you can put on a shelf. They are nice and colorful and the head bobs up and down. It makes you feel good. It’s the nicest display collectible there is. It’s just a lot of fun.
“I’ve always been amazed so many people feel that way. They [collectors] start and they get hooked. There is something about them that draws you too them. Guys my age remember back in the 60s what it was like. You would buy these things for dollar at the ballpark. Half the time, you’d take them home and play with them and they would get all cracked up. They remind a lot of guys of the good old days and that’s why we like it.”
Brey, who lives in Florida, has been able to take that passion and use it to become, arguably, the leading expert on vintage nodders in the business. His website, NodderExchange.com, is the go-to site among collectors who are seeking to land vintage and hard-to-find nodders from the 1960s and early 70s.
His monthly auctions draw hundreds of bidders as collectors look to add nodders that are 50 to 60 years old and in the kind of shape that will make them a welcome addition to their collections. He’s had his business for about two decades, auctioning off primarily baseball and football nodders, though there are some hockey, basketball and pop culture-type nodders sprinkled in almost every sale.
“I used to be in insurance,” Brey said. “We had a family agency and so I did that out of college until I was 49. Then I made the last payment for my son’s college and I quit. I’ve been doing bobbing heads since. I started collecting in the early 80s after I saw some advertisements that guys were looking for them. I remembered I had a few as a kid and I always thought they were kind of neat.
“I was collecting for 15 years then I started thinking about doing something other than insurance. I had been in it [the business] my whole life and I didn’t enjoy it. I started putting together a website just before 2000. I’d go out and look for deals and it took me a couple of years to get all these email addresses and everything.”
Brey points to Tim Hunter as sort of his guide/mentor through the business. Hunter was long considered the hobby’s leading expert, even authoring a book, “Bobbing Head Dolls 1960-2000”. He was the source for older and vintage nodders and bobble heads, running auctions four to five times a year. Brey eventually reached out to Hunter and began hosting the aforementioned auctions on his own site for a few years before Hunter opted to move on from the hobby. It was at that point  that Brey purchased his business.
While Brey normally runs about 10 auctions a year he has seen a spike in interest this year. He believes it is tied to the CoVid-19 pandemic and the fact that people have been home much of the year and have more time on their hands to pursue a hobby.
“I just love it,” Brey said. “I make my own hours, I go play golf, it is great. I never thought I’d be doing it this, not at all. I have to make a living but this is fun; it’s not like working. I wish I had thought of it earlier. It’s a great business.
“It’s not like insurance where people call and complain to you about premiums. Now, people just contact you looking to buy. Collectors are really good people. I never have a problem with any of my customers.”
Brey’s personal collection has shrunk considerably since he began his business. He no longer has much of one and he is largely following the example set by Hunter, who told him that “you can’t be a dealer and a collector because you want to keep all the good ones for yourself”.
“I might keep 20 or 30 of them around but eventually I sell them,” Brey said. “Everything I sell is pretty much on consignment. I have customers from all over the country. I have former customers who want to sell their collections and they come to me and I put it in an auction.
“Some guys have amazing collections, some worth a quarter of a million dollars. I never had that big of a collection. I’d pick up a doll here and there but after I learned all about them, I became intrigued by the whole thing.”
Brey has no plans on giving up his business any time soon. He says he is really happy and truly enjoys his work. He has no interest in writing a book, either, as Hunter did. He said at this point in his life he is busy with and happy running auctions.
Oh, and smiling. Don’t forget that. He spends a great of time smiling about his work.